The Cultural Revival of Old Russia

The discussion of Russian popular culture and art in the early twentieth century is one heavily characterized by innovation, novelty, and experimentation. With the expansion of free speech seen in the advent of hundreds of newspapers and magazines, including the still famous Pravda, so too expanded the artistic venues by which painters, poets, composers, and actors plied their craft. In the closing years of the nineteenth century the Symbolists reigned supreme in Russian arts. Very much representative of traditional Russian culture, Symbolists followed a very hierarchal view of creative works, holding the artist as a “high priest,” affording him the right of interpretation and the ability to dictate the meaning and value of a work to the masses. Within a decade of the dawn of the 1900s, however, the revolutionary tendencies of popular politics took root in artistic movements, with new generations of poets and artists challenging tradition. The mysticism and almost religious veneration of old art was rejected in favor of concrete attention to the “real world.” New avant-garde artists Natalya Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov led the push to create a uniquely Russian medium for expression. Both created works evocative of the simple life, of country folk and the strong, old-fashioned tendencies they carry with them. This craving for a specific Russian culture, free of European influence, resulted in a resounding desire to flesh out and populate the movement with new works, a desire that saw Goncharova and Larionov illustrating poems written by their contemporaries, while poet Vladimir Mayakovsky set about setting peer paintings into poetic narratives. It is perhaps ironic that this desire to buck tradition led to such a saturation of work featuring folk life, popularly described as traditional. Igor Stravinsky’s 1913 ballet, Rite of Spring, was heavily influenced by Russian Primitivism, with the choreography filled with strong, decisive movements and powerful actions. Absent are the complex twirls, bounds, and poses that come to mind when one pictures ballet, replaced by almost tribal, ritualistic unified movements by crowds of strikingly costumed performers. Interestingly enough, Stravinsky is said to have denied the grounding of his compositions in traditional Russian folk music. Regardless of whether this claim holds truth, Stravinsky’s piece is evocative of traditional Russian peasant life, and ties in nicely with contemporary Russian neo-primitivistic works.

3 thoughts on “The Cultural Revival of Old Russia

  1. The “Rite of Spring” I thought was very unique, especially being a Russian ballet. The “Rite of Spring” was certainly non-traditional and did not adhere to many standards within ballet, which goes along with the Cultural Revival that you talk about. Ballet is seen as one of the highlights of Russian culture, and to have such a non-traditional performance, especially in this time period, would certainly have been extreme.

  2. As mentioned in the blog, Rite of Spring was striking for its groundbreaking choreography and orchestral soundtrack. The ballet becomes even more striking was contrasted with the popular works of the time, especially in Paris, where the ballet was first performed. Unlike traditional post-Wagarian compositions, which were full of calm and flowing scores, Stravinsky manipulates the rhythm into a barrage of notes that assails the listener and underscores the harshness of the accompanying movements. It is easy to see how the original performance caused a near-riot and brought Russia to the forefront of the European art world.

  3. When discussing Russian cultural revival, it is necessary to fully understand not only how this revolutionary way of thinking played a significant role, but what its agents aimed to achieve by acting in its stead. These poets and playwrights accompanied by composers and artists all aimed to achieve a common goal. That is to eliminate any trace of the traditional method of thinking in Imperialist Era Russia by re creating the thoughts of an individual. This was to be achieved by forcing the people to think and feel entirely different then they had before through combining imagery and light with new and unfamiliar sounds in performances and other works.

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